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Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Trial Verdict in Favor of Estate in Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Suit

Soon after a lengthy personal injury trial, the unsuccessful party can move for a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and for a new trial, claiming that the evidence did not support the verdict handed down by the jury. This occurred in a recently issued Massachusetts Appeals Court decision, Ellis vs. Peter Clarke (15-P-868), in which the defendant doctor, an emergency radiologist, appealed a jury verdict in favor of the estate of a now-deceased patient. In this appeal, the defendant physician challenged the use of a witness and the conclusions drawn by the jury based on the evidence presented that his actions led to the death of the patient and grantor of the estate.

chest x-rayThe defendant radiologist argued that the estate did not use an appropriate witness who was a standard radiologist, rather than an emergency radiologist. The appellate court listed several cites from case law, which has established the standards for a medical expert. A medical expert may be utilized to testify about many things, including the appropriate standard of care for a patient with the health issues around which the litigation centers. Massachusetts case law has specifically addressed that the expert does not have to be a specialist in the area concerned. The medical expert witness just needs to have the sufficient education, training, experience, and familiarity with the main subject matter of the testimony. The trial judge made a prior determination that the estate’s medical expert was qualified based on his experience reading chest x-rays from ERs, alongside his training and education.

The radiologist also questioned the judge’s ruling determining that the estate did not have to produce evidence showing the diagnosis of cancer should have been made by a certain date. The appellate court did not think a date was necessary, particularly since the law presumes that any warning, if given, will be heeded. In this case, the expert witness stated that the deceased patient would have had a greater chance of survival if the appropriate care had been used and she had been warned.

During trial, the estate administratrix also produced proof that the deceased patient suffered greater pain and suffering than she would have if she underwent the standard course of treatment following a proper diagnosis. The cancer spread through the spring and hip, and extended chemotherapy treatment was necessary for the Stage IV patient. The defendant radiologist protested this characterization, but the appellate court backed the jury’s assessment. The court felt that the jury was allowed to infer that the experience would’ve been different if the deceased had been expected to live rather than die, since she had the knowledge that she had a preventable death. After assessing all the issues raised by the defendant radiologist, the Appeals Court affirmed the verdict outside the calculation for attorney’s fees, allowing the verdict directly related to the damages to the estate to stand.

The Massachusetts wrongful death and personal injury attorneys at Karsner & Meehan know that the path to procuring damages for medical malpractice can be a long and winding one. Our experienced lawyers are here to push back against all attempts to limit damages by defendants and insurance companies. For a free, confidential consultation, call 508.822.6600.

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Appeals Court of Massachusetts Case Reveals The Difficulty People Face When Contesting a Will, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, March 3, 2016
Rear-end Collision Appellate Case Helps Illustrate Burden of Proof Considerations in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2016